wisdom

2 Chronicles 35, Malachi 3

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Chronicles 35 and Malachi 3.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 35.

Josiah was the last great king of Judah and he ruled for a long time--over 30 years. During his reign the idolatry that plagued both Israel and Judah for generations gave way, officially at least, to the true worship of the true God. Even the Passover feast was celebrated which “had not been observed like this in Israel since the days of the prophet Samuel” (v. 18).

So Josiah was a godly man, a good king, and someone the people in his kingdom actually loved--a rare thing, indeed. Verse 24 says that after he died, “all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him.” In every measurable way, Josiah lived a successful life.

But his life ended much sooner than it should have. Yes, he reigned for 31 years (34:1) but he started his reign at age 8 so he died when he was 39 years old. His life could have been much longer and so could the kingdom and spiritual renewal he led.

What ended things so prematurely? An unwise battle against Egypt (v. 20), that’s what. Egypt was not coming to attack Judah and Pharaoh Necho warned Josiah not to attack (v. 21), even stating that God himself was sending the message of non-aggression. The writer of 2 Chronicles agreed that Necho’s message was from God; verse 22b says, “He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.”

Josah’a attack was unwise and unnecessary because the Egyptians were not after him or his people. He died prematurely, then, because of his own foolishness. Though he was a godly man, he was still a man and hu-man and humans make bad decisions. Josiah’s bad decision was personally and nationally costly. God did not stop him from making it even though Josiah was a godly man.

Christians assume sometimes that being in Christ protects us from foolish decisions. I had a man tell me once, “When you’re a Christians, things just go better.” That’s a nice statement but not always or necessarily true. The Bible does promise benefits for meditating on (Psalm 1:3, Joshua 1:8) and obeying (James 1:25) God’s word but loving and serving God does not give you full immunity from making bad decisions or feeling the consequences of those decisions (vv. 20-24). Foolish is the person who assumes he has immunity or (worse) blames God when foolish decisions turn our poorly.

Are you making any decisions in your life where you are acting unwisely, even against good advice because you expect God to insure you from bad decisions? Change your mind and learn from Josiah’s tragic example to become godly and wise in how your live your life.

2 Chronicles 1, Micah 7

Today we’re scheduled to read 2 Chronicles 1 and Micah 7.

This devotional is about 2 Chronicles 1.

Actors, businesspeople, politicians, and sometimes even Christian leaders will occasionally to an online question and answer session called AMA. AMA stands for “Ask Me Anything” and it an open invitation to talk directly.

Here in 2 Chronicles 1, God issued an AMA to Solomon. In verse 7 God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” This is as close to a blank check from the Almighty as any man, woman, or child will ever get.

Our inclination is to ask for something selfish. As God praised Solomon for how he used his divine AMA, he mentioned that Solomon could have asked for “wealth, possessions or honor..., for the death of your enemies, or a long life....” Solomon got the wisdom he asked God for plus God promised, “I will also give you wealth, possessions and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (v. 12).

This reminds me of Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:31-33: “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” When we ask God for things that matter to him--wisdom, his kingdom rule, a righteous heart and life, God is pleased. Because he is pleased, he provides for the things we need but didn’t ask for and sometimes he provides for those things in abundance.

Listen to the things that people pray for or ask you to pray for. A lot of those requests revolve around health--“Pray for me as I’m having surgery on Friday”--or finances--“Pray for me to find a new job.” It isn’t wrong to pray for those things; it is wrong only to pray for those things because it shows a preoccupation with this world rather than knowing and pleasing the Lord.

Think about your prayer life. Is God pleased with the things you ask him for? The AMA invitation for wisdom is still open because James 1:5 says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Think about your prayers. What could you ask the Lord for that you’re not asking him for?

1 Kings 4-5, Ezekiel 35

Today, read 1 Kings 4-5 and Ezekiel 35.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 4.

Wisdom, defined basically, is “skill.” There are people in the Bible who are said to have had wisdom in the area of making garments, for instance (Exodus 28:3). That is a skill that God gave them but that they developed.

In Proverbs, Solomon described the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Most of the Proverbs speak of wisdom in a moral context--worship the Lord, follow his commands, and you will be a wise person. But people can have skill in many areas of life and Solomon’s God-given wisdom extended broadly. He not only had spiritual insight, as we read today in1 Kings 4:32 but he also had administrative insight. Most of this chapter, 1 Kings 4, is dedicated to how Solomon skillfully built administration into his kingdom.

But verse 29 goes on to say that Solomon had wisdom in many areas of life. Verse 33 tells us that Solomon lectured on “plant life... animals and birds, reptiles and fish.” This suggests a curiosity about the world in general and a focused effort to study and understand things.

We believe that God created all things and we believe that he charged humanity with responsibility to develop and use the world around us. Given that, many things that we don’t ordinarily think of a spiritual can actually be acts of worship for a dedicated Christian. Geology, astronomy, physics, business administration, investing, money management, medicine, law, technology, botany, art, music, and many other things that I can’t think of just now can all be areas where God gives someone wisdom and where someone who fears the Lord can demonstrate that wisdom and give glory to God with it.

What areas are you gifted in? Can you sell? Persuade other people? Write? Crunch numbers? Fix electrical problems or computer problems? Learn foreign languages? Write code for computer applications? Have you considered that the interest and ability you have in one or more of these so-called “secular” areas of life could actually be a gift of wisdom to you from God? What, as a Christian, are you doing with that ability to bring glory to God?

1 Kings 1, Ezekiel 32

Today’s readings are 1 Kings 1 and Ezekiel 32.

This devotional is about 1 Kings 1.

The longer you live, the more information you have about life. Getting older allows you to see how decisions you made when you were young or younger have turned out or are turning out. You can also witness how the lives and decisions of others around you have turned out. The wise pay attention to what is happening around them and learn some lessons as they get older.

The opening verses of 1 Kings 1 suggest that David has learned some things about women. As David aged, he had a hard time staying warm at night no matter how many blankets they stacked on top of him (v. 1). His servants, then, decided he needed a warm body to sleep with. They could have set up a schedule for his many wives to take turns keeping him warm at night but, knowing that he had an eye for a pretty girl, they looked for a newer, younger, prettier model to keep him company instead (v. 2).

While their stated goal was to keep the king warm (v. 2c), the fact that they chose a girl based on her beauty suggests that they wanted to satisfy the king in other ways as well. The girl they found was beautiful and useful according to verse 4a, b but according to verse 4c, “...the king had no sexual relations with her.” This suggests that David had learned something about the appropriate relationship a man should have with a woman that is not his wife. David’s adultery with Bathsheba, the rape of his daughter Tamar by his son Amnon, and the way that Absolom used David’s concubines had, maybe, taught him some respect for women that he did not have when he was younger. At any rate, in this one instance at least, David was able to keep his attraction for Abishag in check. So, perhaps, getting older and experiencing the chastening hand of God in his life had taught the king an important moral lesson.

However, David didn’t learn all the lessons he should have learned. The rest of this chapter described the royal crisis that David’s son Adonijah created when he decided to designate himself king. Before he proclaimed himself to be king, however, Adonijah had developed a habit of self-promotion. Verse 5e says that Adonijah “got chariots and horses ready, with fifty men to run ahead of him.” The next verse, verse 6, indicates that Adonijah had done this kind of thing many times before. That is indicated by the words, “His father had never rebuked him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’ in verse 6. Recall that Absolom did this same sort of thing (2 Sam 15:1) before he tried to usurp David’s throne. So David had seen this activity before, but he apparently did not learn much from it. If he had responded to Adonijah when he began acting like Absolom, perhaps Solomon could have become king without any intrigue, without a rushed coronation ceremony, and without the violence that we’ll read about tomorrow.

One of the patterns that we see in David’s life is passivity in certain situations. He showed no reluctance when it came to making war against other nations but he seemed to have great reluctance when it came to dealing with Joab or with his children. He did not confront Amnon when he sinned and raped Tamar. He did not confront Absolom the numerous times that Absolom sinned. And, now, he avoided confronting his son Adonijah or dealing with Adonijah after Solomon became king.

If you look back over your life, you will probably see how sins or just weaknesses in your character or personality have caused you problems again and again. You probably already know what things trip you up repeatedly but you are reluctant to change. Please reconsider; look how costly David’s reluctance to change was in his life and the life of his kingdom. Is it really worth it to let your kids ruin their lives just because you don’t like confrontation? Is the comfort of passivity worth the pain that comes from living on cruise control? What decision do you need to make or difficult conversation do you need to have that you are avoiding? Learn from David’s life and do what you know you should do. Don’t relive the same mistakes over and over again.

2 Samuel 24, Ezekiel 30

Today we ‘re reading 2 Samuel 24 and Ezekiel 30.

This devotional is about Ezekiel 30.

This portion of Ezekiel’s prophecy was directed to Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God began by favorably describing Pharaoh’s majesty (v. 2) but then pointed Pharaoh to the nation of Assyria (v. 3). Remember that the Assyrians were once a world power before the Babylonians came along. In fact, it was the Assyrians who defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel. God used them as an agent of judgment for Israel but they conquered many other Middle Eastern nations as well. The Assyrians were fierce warriors and cruel to their enemies. People and nations feared them, so they had a lofty position, like “a cedar in Lebanon” (v. 3a). Verses 3-9 poetically described the greatness of the Assyrian empire but then in verses 10-11, God described how he punished the Assyrians because they were proud of all they had attained.

At the end of this description of Assyria’s greatness and downfall, God applied the lesson of Assyria to the Egyptians. Verse 18a says, Yes, you are great. If you were a tree, you’d be mightier than any tree in the Garden of Eden.” Verse 18b, however, says, “Yet you, too, will be brought down with the trees of Eden to the earth below; you will lie among the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword. “‘This is Pharaoh and all his hordes, declares the Sovereign Lord.’”

So what was the point of this chapter? It was that Egypt should learn a lesson from Assyria. Egypt was great, yes, but so was Assyria once. Yet God cut them down like a lumberjack fells a tree and he would do the same to Egypt, too, unless they repented.

There are three ways to become wise: (1) Fear God, believe his word and obey it. (2) Despise God, disobey his Word, then watch as he brings the consequences into your life that he promised for disobedience. (3) Notice how God keeps his promises when he punishes others for their sins and repent because you learned a lesson from them. Egypt had the opportunity to be wise in the third way, but they did not repent at the Word of the Lord from Ezekiel.

You and I should learn from Egypt’s bad example. When we see others sin and suffer the consequences, we should repent if we’re involved in that sin or avoid that sin if we are tempted. If you think you can commit the same sins as someone else but that you will escape the consequences, you are a fool. So learn the lesson of Assyria that the Egyptians failed to learn or learn from the Egyptians. Avoid the sins that destroy the lives of others and, if you’re already involved in them, repent now and ask for God’s mercy.

2 Samuel 17, Ezekiel 24

Today’s OT18 readings are 2 Samuel 17 and Ezekiel 24.

This devotional is about 2 Samuel 17.

Over the past few chapters in 2 Samuel, David has been reaping the bad harvest of the sin seeds he sowed in his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan prophesied in 2 Samuel 12:10: “the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” The “sword,” a metaphor for violence, showed up when David’s son Amnon raped David’s son Tamar and when Absolom retaliated by killing Amnon in chapter 13. In chapters 14-15a Absolom began positioning himself to challenge David as king. Then he did attempt to overthrow David as king in 2 Samuel 15b-16.

Here in chapter 17, David is running for his life and Absolom is seeking wisdom for how to defeat his father and solidify his hold on the kingdom of Israel. Absolom consulted two men for advice. Both had been advisors to David and were known to be men who gave wise advice. We do not know why Ahithophel began to advise Absolom instead of David but the advice Ahithophel gave was shrewd and accurate and would benefited Absolom had he chosen to follow it.

The other advisor, Hushai the Arkite, was secretly loyal to David and, consequently, gave different advice to Absolom than Ahithophel gave. God was working in all of this, both through the presence of Hushai and the inclination of Absolom to listen to him. Verse 14 says, “For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.”

The book of Proverbs advises us to seek and follow the advice of wise counselors and Ahithophel certainly qualified. But it is better to be on the Lord’s side than to have the best advisors in the world. Absolom could not win because his cause was unjust, selfish, and opposed to the will of God. God had made an everlasting covenant with David and the Lord would not fail to keep his side of the bargain. The best tactics, strategy, advice, and execution will be ineffective if it is not aligned with what God has chosen to do.

When you make decisions and seek advice, do you filter that advice according to scripture? Are you thinking about the commands of God and the moral truths his word teaches first before you follow the advice you are given? As Proverbs 21:30 says, “There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.” So seek and follow wise counsel, by all means, but remember to consult God’s word as your first and primary counselor.

Judges 21, Jeremiah 35

Today’s readings are Judges 21 and Jeremiah 35.

This devotional is about Judges 21.

This chapter continues a brutal story that began in Judges 19. In that chapter, a Levite and his concubine were traveling home late at night. Although it would have been easier to reach one of the Gentile cities on their journey, they went to a city called Gibeah, which was inhabited by families from the tribe of Benjamin. The text does not say so exactly but the expectation is that they would be safer in Gibeah because their brothers from another tribe would welcome and care for them.

That is not what happened, to put it mildly. Although one old man took the family into his home, the Benjaminites in Gibeah decided to impersonate the men of Sodom and demanded that the Levite be turned over to them to be abused sexually. The Levite handed over his concubine instead and they raped and killed her. The Levite took her dead body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one body part to each tribe in Israel. That was Judges 19.

In Judges 20 the leaders of Israel’s tribe responded to the Levite and demanded that the rest of the Benjamites hand over the men of Gibeah for some rough justice. The Benjamites refused and civil war began--11 tribes against Benjamin. After some initial success, the Benjamites were soundly defeated by the rest of Israel who killed many of them and burned every town they came across. The author of Judges was coy when he wrote that they “put all the towns to the sword, including the animals and everything else they found.” The “everything else they found” was the women and children in these towns--a brutal overreaction that was similar in immorality to the way the concubine was killed in Judges 19 which stared this whole mess, but this brutality was done at a much larger scale.

Now, here in Judges 21, we read that those who turned out to fight then took an oath not to give their daughters in marriage to any Benjamites (v. 1). Then they realized what a stupid move that was. Since they killed all the women and children, the Benjamites who survived the war would not be able to reproduce so the whole tribe of Benjamin might be extinguished (v. 2, 6-7). Eventually they came up with a solution: Nobody from Jabesh Gilead showed up to fight, so they killed all the men and women of that town and handed over their virgin daughters to the Benjamites (vv. 7-14). That worked somewhat but didn’t provide enough women for all the Benjamites so they told the men of Benjamin kidnap the girls of Shiloh and forcibly marry them (vv. 18-23). They reasoned that, since the girls were kidnaped, their fathers weren’t technically guilty of breaking their oath.

Verse 25 ends the book of Judges with these words: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” What we are to conclude, then, from this awful story is that people need wise, godly leadership. When people do what seems right in their eyes, they do wretched things to each other, overreact in their attempts for justice, make wicked, rash vows, then rationalize immoral ways to solve the problems they have created. A wise leader, however, can save people from these wicked abuses.

Saul, David, Solomon, and the other kings of Israel and Judah did some wicked, unwise things themselves. However, they generally showed better leadership than what we read about in here in Judges. But the only king who can truly lead perfectly and judge wisely is the Lord Jesus Christ himself. While we should seek wise solutions to our problems with each other and we should seek good, righteous leaders, we should never fall too much in love with any one leader because they will fail. The failure of leadership and government in this world should not surprise us but it should cause us to long for the kingdom of God where Jesus will judge in righteousness. Let the bad decisions of leaders in this world and the foolish outcomes that men come up with lead you to pray, “Your kingdom come!” When God’s kingdom comes in the person of King Jesus, then human society will finally function and flourish like we want it to and God created it to.

Judges 11:12-40, Jeremiah 24

Today’s readings are Judges 11:12-40 and Jeremiah 24.

This devotional is about Judges 11:12-40.

Jephthah was born of a sinful union and was horribly mistreated by his half brothers as we read yesterday. Despite this difficult beginning, he had leadership qualities (11:3) so he was ready when his people needed help.

He also knew his Bible (vv. 12-28) and, when the time came, God used him powerfully to deliver Gilead from the Ammonites. Although he had pure motives to honor God for the victory, the vow he made was stupid (vv. 30-31). His reaction (vv. 34-35) shows how little thought he put into the vow he had made and how there was no malice whatsoever in his heart when he made the vow.

I heard a pastor say once that Jephthah did not actually kill his daughter and offer her as a burnt offering; instead, he just sent her off to the tabernacle to serve the priests like Hannah would later do with her son Samuel. I wish that were true, but the evidence to the contrary in the passage is too strong. In verse 31b he said, “I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” and verse 39b says, “...he did to her as he had vowed” so there is every reason to believe that she died as a human sacrifice and no reason to believe that she lived as a religious servant.

So what do we do with this awful text? First, we should understand that the whole book of Judges was given to show us what a moral and spiritual mess Israel was. Even the good guys in Judges do foolish, even ungodly things.

More importantly, we should understand that Jephthah’s vow was outside of the moral will of God. Deuteronomy 12:31 and 18:9-12 clearly prohibit human sacrifice and those passages tell us that Israel would kill the people of these Canaanite nations in war because of this very kind of sinful thing. Promising God that you will do something and then doing it when it is a sin does not bring glory to God in any way.

So what should Jephthah have done? He should have asked the priests to inquire of the Lord for him (see Ex 28:30, Deut 33:8, 1 Sam 14:41, Ezra 2:63, Neh 7:65)*, then done whatever he was told. I am certain the Lord would have commanded him to redeem his daughter in some way rather than put her to death.

We can learn two lessons from this gruesome story. First, being zealous for God’s glory does not automatically protect you from doing foolish, even sinful things. Sometimes Christians make excuses for themselves or others because someone “has a good heart.” They may have a good heart but that doesn’t mean they always make good decisions. Wisdom is just as important as personal godliness; in fact, it IS an important aspect of godliness.

Second, when you put yourself in a moral quandary--intentional or not--you need to seek godly counsel for help. So many problems could have been prevented, solved, or at least had the damage contained if God’s people reached out to godly leaders for help sooner and more often. Consult your elders when you’re in over your head. God gave elders to the church to shepherd his people out of difficult situations. Use us.

*For more on how the Urim & Thummim were used to help discern God’s will, see this article: https://bible.org/question/how-did-urim-and-thummim-function ]

Joshua 23, Jeremiah 12

Today, read Joshua 23 and Jeremiah 12.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 12.

Yesterday, in Jeremiah 11:18-23, the prophet seemed grateful that God had revealed a plot against him. He asked for God’s justice to punish those who sought to kill him and God revealed to Jeremiah that He would punish them.

In the early verses of this chapter, however, Jeremiah started complaining about God’s justice. God was telling Jeremiah to prophesy punishment for those who were sinning in Israel. But there was no punishment; these people were thriving, as far as Jeremiah could tell (v. 2a-b). Jeremiah was eager to see God’s judgment fall and was put out with God for not delivering already on the promised punishment (v. 4a).

How did God answer this complaint? By telling Jeremiah that he was way out of his league: “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” The rest of this chapter reaffirms God’s promise to bring judgment, first on Israel (vv. 6-13), then on the nations that defeat Israel (v. 14). The final verses allude to the salvation of Gentiles (vv. 15-16) but the chapter ends with another promise of judgment (v. 17).

So what exactly was God’s reply to Jeremiah’s complaint? It was to tell Jeremiah that His ways were too high for Jeremiah to understand. God will do what he promised. When will he do it? Why will he delay? The answers to these questions belong to the Lord. Jeremiah needed to stop complaining and just trust him.

We can relate to Jeremiah, right? If God is sovereign and holy and just, then why is there so much sin and evil in the world? These and other questions bother us and sometimes even challenge our faith God. If we knew what God knows and were as wise as he is, we would understand. Lacking his omniscience and wisdom, however, leaves us asking questions we can’t answer and even accusing the only just one in the universe of injustice.

This is how God always answers us when we challenge or question him. He doesn’t try to explain his ways; he reminds us that his ways are beyond our understanding. This is what he told Job and what he tells us. It is what he said to Paul when he said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” The lesson for us is to commit to God the things we can’t understand and be faithful to do what he’s commanded.

Joshua 9, Jeremiah 3

Today we’re scheduled to read Joshua 9 and Jeremiah 3.

This devotional is about Jeremiah 3:11: “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.”

In this chapter God compared his people to a wife and their idolatry to adultery. The wife imagery was a better analogy when Israel was one nation because, of course, God made his covenant with one nation not with two. After Solomon, however, the nation of Israel became two nations governed by different kings. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Israel had 19 kings after Solomon and Judah had 20 kings. None of Israel’s 19 kings walked in the ways of God but eight of Judah’s 20 kings did to some degree or other.

Because the Northern Kingdom of Israel was the most wicked, they came under the covenant curse first. The Assyrians invaded their land and carried them off into exile. Here in Jeremiah 3:8 God compared the Northern Kingdom’s exile to divorce; verse 8 says, “I gave faithless Israel her certificate of divorce and sent her away because of all her adulteries.”

The Southern Kingdom had some good kings, as I mentioned, so they remained a free nation for longer than the Northern Kingdom did. Given the 8 good kings Judah had, it is surprising to read in verse 11 that, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah.” In what way was Israel “more righteous” than Judah?

That question was answered in verses 8b-10 which say, “‘Yet I saw that her unfaithful sister Judah had no fear; she also went out and committed adultery. Because Israel’s immorality mattered so little to her, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stone and wood. In spite of all this, her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord.” In other words, Judah saw God keep his promise and punish Israel but they did not genuinely repent and turn to the Lord. Instead, they made religious gestures rather than sincere worship. Israel was “more righteous” then because Judah had more truth, more information, yet they still rejected God. Their idolatry was more deliberate; they chose to follow the same path as their “sister” Israel despite the negative consequences it brought to the Northern Kingdom.

There are three ways to learn moral and spiritual truths: (1) Believe God’s revelation. (2) Reject God’s revelation and figure it out for yourself by receiving all the consequences God’s word promised for those who reject his word. Or, (3) notice the experience of others--either the blessings they receive by faith or the curses they receive for disobedience, and choose accordingly. Judah had the Temple and the priests and scribes and God sent them prophets, too, so option (1) was there for them. They saw the devastation that Israel’s disobedience brought so they could have learned using option (3). Nevertheless, they chose option (2) and paid the price for it. A wise person--in the Proverbs sense--will receive God’s instruction (option 1) and will also notice how his word is fulfilled (option 3). We are fools when we go our own way, proving God’s word when we receive the pain and misery that sin brings. And, as verse 11 suggests (and Jesus also taught) we are worse (and receive greater condemnation) when we have God’s word and reject it than those who sin but have little to none of God’s truth.

Is it possible that right now you are considering a sin, playing with a sin that you’ve seen others commit? Will you learn from their experience to trust God and follow his ways, even when the attraction of sin is strong?

Leviticus 27, Ecclesiastes 10, Psalm 113

This devotional is about Ecclesiastes 10:8-10.

Many of these later chapters in Ecclesiastes contain proverbs. Some are similar to those we find in the book of Proverbs; others are unique. Here in Ecclesiastes 10:8-10, we find a few proverbs related to work. Verses 8-9 tell us that virtually every job has some kind of hazard to it. Whatever you do that brings income and blessing to you and your household can also harm you if you’re not careful. I believe that is the point of these proverbs. Solomon’s point was not just to observe that occupations have dangers to them. It was to warn every worker to be careful. If you spend a lot of time around pits that you’ve dug, or stones that you’ve quarried, or logs that you’ve split, you can become indifferent to the dangers they pose to your life and health. When you stop respecting the power of these things, you can get lazy with your safety habits and possibly injure yourself. A wise person never cuts corners on safety in his work; instead, he respects the inherent power of the things he works with and is careful to do his work safely.

Verse 10 pivoted to another aspect of work. That verse reminds us that you have to work much harder with inadequate tools than you do with proper tools. The person who says, “I don’t have time to sharpen this ax; there are too many trees to cut down!” is a person who doesn’t appreciate the power of well-prepared tools. Instead, according to the third line of verse 10, “more strength is needed.” That is, if you don’t understand the power of the right tool, YOU’LL be the one applying the power with your arms. The final line in verse 10 says, “but skill will bring success,” and this line suggests that this verse is about more than just sharpening your ax. A sharpened ax is literally more effective; it is also a metaphor for a more skillful way to work.

There is no virtue in using a handsaw when a circular saw is available. There is no virtue in churning your own butter (unless you like doing that for some weird reason, or think it tastes better) when you can buy a stick or a tub inexpensively. There’s also no virtue in learning by making mistakes when you could learn from others. A wise person is one who is trying to learn how to be more effective in less time at whatever he is attempting to do. God created you with the ability to learn and with the ability to think about your work creatively and innovatively so that you can be more effective and efficient at what you do.

The Bible is a book obout God, not about time management, business best practices, or personal success. But it contains helpful information about these subjects because God cares about you and wants you to be effective and productive in addition to being honest and ethical.

Are there any areas of your work, or life in general, where you’ve been careless with safety precautions or where you’ve been working with a dull ax? Maybe it is time to stop working harder and start working smarter, just as God created you to do.

Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99

Today’s readings are Leviticus 13, Proverbs 27, Psalm 99.

This devotional is about Proverbs 27:22: “Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding them like grain with a pestle, you will not remove their folly from them.”

Why do some people make a bad decision once and learn from it while others make the same bad decision many times? The answer is that the one who learns from their bad decisions is on the path to wisdom. Wisdom comes from fearing the Lord and humbly accepting rebuke--either from God or from friends (vv. 5-6, 17) or from the consequences that bad decisions inevitably bring.

The wisest person believes what God’s word says and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade A Wisdom.” This person does not try to test God’s word by making moral choices that are against what it says. Instead, he or she obeys God’s word because they believe it to be true. This person will avoid many heartaches and problems simply because they believed God. In this case, God’s word provides the rebuke in advance and teaches the wise person not to give into that sinful desire of his or her heart. Nobody does this perfectly; after all, we’re all sinners. But God’s grace allows some people to sin less than others because they wisely believe and obey God’s commands.

A step below the wisest person is the person who watches the decisions made by others, notices whether the outcome is good or bad, and makes choices accordingly. Let’s call this “Grade B Wisdom.” This person learns from the mistakes/misdeeds of others and avoids many heartaches and problems as a result. In other words, the rebuke is the life and consequences that others who live immorally produce. The person with “Grade B Wisdom” believes that the bad consequences that follow the sinful choices of others will come to him or her if they make the same sinful choice.

Next we have the person who sins--either because they are ignorant of God’s commands and the bad outcomes others have or because they ignore the sources of rebuke from “Grade A” and “Grade B” wisdom. This person learns wisdom by experience. They experience the consequences and pain of their sins and, at that point, choose to believe and act differently in the future as a result.

Finally, we have the fool. He’s got “Grade F ‘wisdom’” which is equivalent to straight up folly. This person does whatever he wants, regardless of whether or not God has commanded against it or others have experienced the pain that comes from it. This person believes that he is some kind of exception. While God’s word may be true for everyone else, he or she will not be hurt by their sins like everyone else is. And, if this person sins once and pays the price for it, they believe it is an anomaly so they sin again expecting a different result. Proverbs 27:22 addressed this kind of person. It says that you can try as many ways as you want or as often as you want to drive the folly out of a fool, but “you will not remove their folly from them” even if you “grind a fool in a motar.” This person learns nothing from anyone--not God’s word, not the mistakes and misdeeds of others, and not even from their own experiences.

A few years ago, someone was planning an unwise, sinful action and several of us spoke to him about it. We pleaded with him not to do what he intended to do. This encounter was not our first with this person. I had personally witnessed him disregarding his parent’s instructions, even though he was warned. When that decision got him in trouble, he tried to sin his way out of it again even though I and others urged him not to. Finally, when I heard of this person’s plans to sin again, I told him: “Haven’t you learned anything from your experience? You sin, it gets you into trouble, so you sin more to try to get yourself out of it.” Our rebuke did not work. Showing him scripture, did not change his actions. Pleading with him to at least try a different path fell on deaf ears. This person was determined to prove God’s word right not by obeying it to avoid trouble but by disobeying it, making their own sinful, selfish choices. He thought he was an exception to the rule; I think he made a foolish choice that would hurt him, just as God’s word said.

Are you one who accepts good confrontation or someone who argues or ignores it? Few people like to confront others and nobody enjoys being confronted. A wise person, however, will accept rebuke--from God’s word, from the experience of others or from their own experiences--and change course. Is that you? Or will you keep making morally foolish decisions despite God’s clear commands or the pain that results?

God is gracious and merciful but not to the fool. He is gracious and merciful to those who accept rebuke and repent, changing their minds and choosing a different path. If you’re on an unwise path, please let these verses turn your thinking. Don’t be a fool.

Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, Psalm 73

Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, Psalm 73 Today’s readings are Exodus 26, Proverbs 2, and Psalm 73.

This devotional is about Psalm 73, with a few allusions to Proverbs 2.

Proverbs 2 seems to make several strong, blanket promises. Verses 7-8 says, “He [“the Lord”] holds success in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones.” Later in verses 21-22 we read, “For the upright will live in the land, and the blameless will remain in it; but the wicked will be cut off from the land, and the unfaithful will be torn from it.” These passages promise good things to the godly and wise and bad things to the wicked. Easy enough.

But Asaph’s experience in Psalm 73 was just the opposite. He nearly rejected the Lord because he “envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Verses 4-11 describe the sins of the ungodly, then verse 12 says, “This is what the wicked are like—always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.” Contrary to the claims of Proverbs 2 (and others), Asaph found that it was ungodly who prospered.

Meanwhile he felt, “Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure and have washed my hands in innocence. All day long I have been afflicted, and every morning brings new punishments.” Instead of finding the success and prosperity that Proverbs seems to promise to the godly, Asaph struggled with affliction despite his pure heart and saw the godly prosper daily.

Eventually Asaph came to the same conclusion as Solomon: “Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds” (vv. 27-28). But how did he come to believe this? Verse 17: “till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.” It wasn’t until he heard God’s word in the Tabernacle/Temple that Asaph understood that there would be eternal unhappiness for the wicked and eternal joy for the believer.

It is helpful to be reminded of this periodically. If we selectively compare ungodly people with our own experience, we will certainly find some wicked people who are prospering--or at least appear to be. Their prosperity, though, will be short-lived. In this world, wickedness eventually catches up with a person and godly eventually brings blessing. But there are some situations where the wicked receive no penalties and the godly receive no rewards in this life. Those are exceptions and they will be set straight in eternity when each of us stands before God.

As for the “promises” in Proverbs--they are not absolute promises but descriptions of what is generally true and what usually happens. Because God is sovereign, he overrules some situations. Sometimes godly people who honor their parents and live wisely still die young. In other cases, ungodly men may live a long time. But these are exceptions that God allows for his purpose. If you follow the lives of most people who walk with God, you will find that they live longer and are happier than their counterparts. Obedience usually brings great blessings so we should trust God, obey him, and let him decide if there will be exceptions to the laws he embedded in creation.

Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, Psalm 72

Today we’re reading Exodus 25, Proverbs 1, and Psalm 72.

This devotional is about Proverbs 1.

We live in the information age. Knowledge abounds and most people carry a device in their pocket or purse that can access it. Although knowledge is readily available, wisdom is rare. People in our society know more than ever but seem to have fewer and fewer basic life skills.

The word “wisdom,” biblically speaking, at least, refers to skill. It is the skill of living a successful life according to God’s definition of success. Although I said that wisdom is rare in our society, Proverbs 1:20-21 claims that wisdom is ubiquitous---nearly as common as oxygen. To demonstrate this, Solomon imagined wisdom as if it were a woman and wrote, “Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech:”

If wisdom is everywhere then why is it so rare? The speech of “woman wisdom” in verse 23 tells us why: “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you....” Wisdom is rare because only the humble receive it. It takes humility to admit that you lack skills with God, with money, with other people, with the opposite sex, with career choices, with your own bad habit like laziness, etc. Most of us are too proud in one or more of the areas where we need wisdom which is why we continue to make foolish decisions.

As we read the book of Proverbs over the next 30 days, note how often the idea that your own ideas or understanding will lead you astray. That’s how our pride manifests itself. We try to figure everything out on our own, so we don’t ask God for wisdom, turn to his Word for wisdom, or seek the counsel of wise people. If we would only change our minds (v. 23: “repent”) and admit that we’re on the edge of big trouble most of the time, wisdom would be right there waiting to give us a great big kiss.

Sometimes we succeed or avoid danger / failure despite our lack of wisdom but very often our foolishness gets the better of us. But living in folly and making decisions without wisdom catches up with us most of the time. The reason is that there are built-in effects to the decisions we make. When we make wise decisions, good things happen; when we make foolish decisions, we suffer for it. Verses 25-27 promise that disaster and calamity will come to those who refuse wisdom’s rebuke. Verse 30-31 tell us that this disaster and calamity is embedded in folly; it is the direct consequences of unwise choices: “Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them....”

Wisdom is a moral thing. That’s why it starts with fearing the Lord (v. 7). God’s commands are wisdom. When we sin, we choose folly and put ourselves directly in the path of a category 5 hurricane of disaster. But our sin nature fools us into believing that we know better than God and his Word; consequently, we humans make the same foolish decisions over and over, generation after generation, never learning from foolish disasters created by those older than us. We need God’s grace to overcome our foolishness so that we can be wise. This is what we have in Christ.

Is there anything in your life right now that you need to repent of? Any sins you’ve committed or have committed that you need to change your mind about? Wisdom is begging you to do it before calamity comes. Turn toward her open arms! God’s promise to you through her is, “whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm” (v. 33).

Exodus 10, Job 28, Psalm 58

Today’s readings are Exodus 10, Job 28, and Psalm 58.

This devotional is about Job 28.

In this beautiful chapter, Job meditated on the scarce resource of wisdom. In the first 11 verses, he talked about how people extract precious minerals from the earth. It is a complete pain to get silver, gold, iron, and precious gems out of the earth. Despite how difficult and dangerous it is, men will do it because these things have immense value. The value of owning and selling these natural resources far outweigh the expense and trouble it takes to extract them from the earth.

But what about wisdom? It is more valuable than anything, so “where can wisdom be found?” (v. 12a). You can’t mine it from the earth (vv. 13-19) and it is invisible to anyone but God (vv. 20-27). Fortunately, God has revealed it to humanity. Verse 28 says, “And he said to the human race, ‘The fear of the Lord—that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.’”

We live in a society that is increasingly secular and becoming hostile to our faith. Those who denounce Christianity will try to tell you how the increase in human knowledge makes faith unnecessary and, in fact, shows how useless faith truly is. It is true that we enjoy many human inventions and innovations and most of those were not discovered or created by Christians. Yet, we also see in our society that, despite how educated and confident we are about our learning and scientific discoveries, people are becoming more and more foolish. They believe that gender is not biological, that sexual promiscuity of all kinds is acceptable and harmless to a person and society. They believe that free speech is oppressive and that human governments have the answers to all human problems--if we only gave them more power and money. Meanwhile, people are prosperous and unhappy; they have access to healthy food and excellent health care but live in despair. They form families, then tear them apart through divorce. Then they wonder why their kids are closed off emotionally and turn to destructive behaviors like drunkenness and substance abuse.

These are the consequences of not fearing the Lord. God will let you make sinful choices and live your own way. You may become very well educated, too, but you will lose all access to wisdom if you don’t fear the Lord. The poor choices people make morally and the pain they experience are symptoms of the folly of rejecting God and his word.

You and I know better to some extent if we know the Lord. But we can still be deceived by the ways of this world. This passage calls us to stop and reflect. Are we living in the fear of God and growing in wisdom? Or does the wisdom of this world seem to make better sense to us because we’ve departed from the Lord’s ways?

Wisdom is the most valuable resource humanity can have. And, it isn’t rare or hard to find like gold, silver, and iron. The Bible says wisdom calls out in the streets and beckons to the foolish. The rarity of wisdom isn’t that it is hard to mine; it is rare because it can only be found in God. To find wisdom, we must humble ourselves in repentance and faith and trust that God’s ways are higher than ours. We must learn to obey his word even when the world seems to have a better explanation. When we fear God and keep his commands, then we find wisdom. There is no other way to get it.

Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36

Today we are scheduled to read Genesis 38, Job 4, Psalm 36.

This devotional is about Psalm 36.

After we sin, and the pleasure of it is gone, and the price tag comes due, it feels pretty stupid.

Before we sin, however, sin seems like a great idea. We delude ourselves into the think that we won’t get caught or we justify our disobedience by telling ourselves that our case is exceptional. Or maybe we don’t even think very far beyond the moment; the promise of sin clouds our thinking and keeps us from counting the cost.

David had a message for us in this Psalm. Sin is not only stupid, it is arrogant. Verse 2 says, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” This is how our hearts deceive us. Your heart and mine tells you and me to ignore the truth of God’s word and the wisdom about life that is offered there and to trust our own judgment. When we choose to do wrong, we flatter ourselves into thinking that we have it all figured out.

Verses 5-9 sing to the Lord, praising him for his faithfulness, his righteousness, his justice, his love, his abundance, his life, and his light. Believing these truths about God can cause us to make righteous choices in our lives. When I want to do wrong but choose to do right, it is a choice to follow God’s wisdom over my own. It is an act of faith, believing that God’s ways will be better than following my own ways--no matter how flawless my plans seem or how brilliant my evil heart tells me I am.

Verse 12 calls us to look at those who’ve come before us. They’ve already made the moral choices that we are tempted to make. The believed the lies of their sin-cursed hearts. What happened to them? “See how the evildoers lie fallen—thrown down, not able to rise!”

Sin will please you for a moment and kill you in the end. God’s commands, however lead us to better things: “ People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light” (vv. 8-9).

Choose the light.

Genesis 26, Esther 2, Psalm 25

Today the schedule calls for us to read Genesis 26, Esther 2, and Psalm 25.

This devotional is about Genesis 26.

The cliché, “like father, like son” became a cliché because it is true. Children are reproductions of their parents, not just physical reproductions but reproductions in many other ways. Although each of us has characteristics that are unique and different from our parents, we consciously and unconsciously pick up many of the things that one or both of our parents do.

Here in Genesis 26, we see Isaac reproducing the behavior of his father Abraham. Twice Abraham told his wife Sarah to pretend that she was his sister (Gen 12, 20) so that he would not fear being killed by some other guy who wanted her. This was a stupid strategy, really. It did protect Abraham, which was his goal. But it threatened his marriage in both instances and forced his wife twice into unwanted relationships with other men. Abraham’s strategy was unloving to Sarah, untrusting of God, and just downright stupid.

So where did Isaac get the brilliant idea to do use the same strategy? It must have come from Abraham sharing his stories. God was the hero of Abraham’s stories, protecting Sarah in both cases and even enriching Abraham in the process. The moral of Abraham’s stories should have been, “Isaac, I did something stupid and sinful in these cases. God was merciful and protected us, but be wise and don’t do what I did.” Maybe Abraham tried to convey that; maybe he just told his stories with a laugh because things turned out well. Whatever Abraham said, tried to say, or implied in his telling of these stories, Isaac got the wrong message. The message Isaac took from Abraham’s experience was, “Lie at all costs to save your life when you feel insecure about the beautiful woman God gave you.” Predictably, Isaac got the same results when he used Abraham’s strategy. He kept himself out of harm’s way but, in the process, lost his wife’s companionship and nearly lost his marriage completely.

The moral of these stories for us is, “Tell your stories to your kids, but make sure you teach them the right lesson to learn.” Don’t indirectly teach your kids, “Hey, I sinned and got away with it so you can, too.” Instead, directly teach your kids, “I sinned but God was merciful. Learn from my bad example, trust God, and do what is right.”

Have you told your kids any stories that they might get the wrong ideas from? Fix that while you can; don’t let your kids repeat the same mistakes you’ve made.

Like father, like son. But it doesn’t have to be that way for the bad stuff. Instead, show your son and daughter the right path. Let them stand on your shoulders and be wiser than you were.

Proverbs 24:19-34

Today we’re reading Proverbs 24:19-34.

You’ve moved to a new area. Which is more important--finding a home that you love or finding a job that will enable you to provide for yourself and--eventually--find a home that you love?

This is a question about priorities. It is about what needs to happen first in order to enable other things to happen. That’s what verse 27 is telling us when it says, “Put your outdoor work in order and get your fields ready; after that, build your house.” In terms of comfort, it is appealing to do it the other way. You build yourself a nice comfortable home. Get out of that tent you’ve been living in and move into a nice, big, warm farmhouse. Then you can get busy being a farmer. A good night’s sleep in a warm home will help you plant and cultivate and reap those crops more effectively anyway, right?

No. That’s a rationalization for operating in your comfort zone rather than doing the wise thing first. If you’re going to be a farmer, you need to till up that soil, plant those seeds, and let them start growing. It takes a long time for that stuff to grow to productivity so the sooner you start on it, the better off you will be. The work you do now on those fields will pay dividends later for years and years. After you have a productive system started, you will have time to build yourself a nice home. You’ll also have the financial resources to pay for it.

How does this apply to us non-farmers? It teaches us to cultivate and work toward the long-term value. It teaches us to sacrifice personal comfort for a time in order to provide for the long term. For young people, start learning to save 10% of your income and tithe 10% of your income from the very first paycheck you receive. Don’t spend everything on a nicer apartment, leasing a new car, subscribing to cable TV and buying whatever new gadget. Sacrifice now to plant seeds in you life that will pay off when you are older and in eternity.

It applies to more than just young people, though. All of us are inclined to feather our nests and make our comfort zone more comfy at the expense of doing work and making sacrifices that will take years to pay off. It is easier to to eat that doughnut today and think about dieting tomorrow than it is to forgo that junk food for a healthy diet. It’s easier to sit on the couch and watch Netflix than it is to go for a run. Do you spend every dollar you have--and more thanks to easy credit--or are you disciplining yourself to set aside money for the future?

Think about something you’ve been neglecting because it will take sacrifices now and won’t pay off until the future? Then, make that your priority. Spend the first hour of your day on it every day, then go about doing the day-to-day stuff that seems urgent but is rarely important. These are some ways to wisely apply ourselves in the present that will benefit us in the future.

Proverbs 23:19-35

\Today’s reading is Proverbs 23:19-35.

Among the moral teachings against over-indulgence (vv. 19-21, 29-35) and adultery (vv. 26-27), is the encouragement for children to follow the ways of their parents and live a righteous life (vv. 22-25). Verse 24 says, “The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.” Why is this true?

The main reason is that sorrow follows sin. It doesn’t follow sin immediately; pleasure follows sin immediately. That’s what makes sin so alluring to us--the promise and immediate payoff of pleasure. But there is a hidden price tag to living a sinful life. First of all, the pleasures sin offer diminish over time. This is why people go deeper into sin or sin more regularly. Secondly, sin leaves brokenness and broken relationships behind it. The brokenness sin leaves is guilt. You can ignore your conscience and choose to sin but after you’ve sinned, your conscience will make you feel guilty about it. Sin also breaks relationships because it betrays trusts and puts the sinner ahead of others.

Anyone who been an adult for a decade or two (or more) has seen this. We have seen people chase and embrace the excitement of sin. It might be materialism, fame, immoral sexual relationships, or substance use. Sometimes it is dishonesty or manipulating others or simply living as if God does not exist. These things provide pleasure for a while but they produce a life that is undisciplined, a person that is unreliable and dishonest. They can cause physical problems, emotional damage, wrecked families, and ruined reputations. If a person’s parents live to see their children grow up to be like this, of course they do not rejoice. Parents like this feel sorrow for the consequences their children experience, sorrow for the lives they have damaged, regret about decisions they made when raising their children, and shame for how their family turned out.

If you are a young person and are figuring out what kind of person you will become, you should trust the wisdom of your parents (v. 22) if they walk with God. Above anyone else alive, they want what is best for you. Because they have seen how others have lived and died, they know which choices are life-giving and which ones are destructive. Follow the wisdom of your parents! It will make them happy (vv. 24-25) and it save you from many of the sorrows and problems that sin leaves behind.

Parents, you can’t live your child’s life for him or her. But, while they live with you, you make the rules. Teach your children about wisdom and righteousness. Show them examples of people who sinned and are paying for it. If they do their own thing after they leave your home, that’s sad but don’t enable them to sin while they’re with you.

Proverbs 21:15-31

Today’s reading is Proverbs 21:15-31.

You’ve heard people say, “We live hand to mouth.” Maybe you’ve even said it. When someone says that, they are telling you that they do not save anything. Whatever they earn in income is immediately consumed. Every penny is spent and, with easy credit these days, many people have already spent more money than they will earn for many paychecks to come.

This is the American way, unfortunately.

But it isn’t the wise way. According to Proverbs 15:20, “The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down.” Remember that wisdom has a moral quality to it in Proverbs. The way of the wise isn’t just something that smart people do; it is what godly people do. If a person takes God’s word seriously, that person knows that God created people to work and provide for ourselves. Also, God’s word tells us to prepare for difficult days. These revelations from God’s word are what cause a wise man to “store up choice food and olive oil.” A believer in God understands that difficult days will come so he prepares for them by saving.

A fool, by contrast, is a consumer. He or she craves the experience of pleasure, the excitement of new purchases, the status provided by nice things. Instead of saving, then, the foolish consumes everything as soon as it comes in. And so, verse 17 of our passage today prophesies, “Whoever loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and olive oil will never be rich.”

A person’s savings or lack of savings is not the only indicator of faith and godliness. Every Christian has areas where they are doing well and areas they need to improve. If you’re reading these devotionals every day, you’re taking a positive step toward a holy life. If you’re putting into practice the things that you read, that’s even more important. Maybe today’s proverbs will give you a new area in your life to work on for developing godliness. If you’re not saving anything, understand that is both a financial and spiritual problem, then ask the Lord to help you curb your spending and start saving.

An excellent first step on this would be to sign up for Financial Peace University this fall, which we are offering as one of our small groups. You can sign up for it on Sunday in your response cards or go to http://calvarysmallgroups.com and register for it right now.